A 70s flat track racer returns to his roots…
The Kawasaki Zephyr series was the company’s range of retro-styled naked superbikes, which took inspiration from the original Kawasaki Z1. That meant twin rear shocks, upright riding position, and an air-cooled inline four powerplants. The ZR550 Zephyr 550 was the smallest of the bunch, running a GPZ550 engine tuned for better midrange, putting out 49 horsepower. Introduced in 1991, it helped carve out a niche later dominated by the Suzuki Bandit — air-cooled naked bikes more in the spirit of Eddie Lawson’s KZ1000R superbike than the modern crop of fairing-clad replica racers.
Enter Pete Sykes of Worcester, Pennsylvania, who builds custom bikes and fabricates aluminum seat pans under the name Vintage Sykles. Pete was an avid flat track racer back in the 1970s until a tragedy took him away from the sport:
“In 1977 my best friend and race travel partner passed away while racing. For the next 30 some years I lost my interest in motorcycles and in 2009 decided to make a change and found my sobriety.”
Since then, Pete has built 12 custom bikes and opened his shop fabbing and selling aluminum seat pans. Originally, he bought this 1990 Zephyr 550 in stock trim, but quickly realized he couldn’t find a factory fuel tank to replace the original unit, which was missing.
“From there I took the bike down to the frame and decided to build a street tracker.”
Pete mined his experience on those 70s dirt tracks, de-raking the bike to achieve the geometry he wanted, installing new bars with set-back mounts, and fabricating aluminum number plates, fenders, and seat pan. The paint is a garage-done job, and the bike is running an LED headlamp and turn signals. Over the course of the build, the 550 earned the moniker “Problem Child” — but Pete is happy with the end product:
“To me anyone who can create an image in their mind then make it into something tangible is a true gift.”
Below, we get the full story on this Zephyr 550 “Problem Child.”
Zephyr 550 Street Tracker: In the Builder’s Words
The bike started out stock and missing the fuel tank which I found out you just can’t find one. From there I took the bike down to the frame and decided to build a street tracker. With only 8000 miles on it I knew it would be a worthy build. I went over every part and rebuilt what I needed to and restored what I could.
Modifications done are as follows: custom built exhaust using original headers; I made an aluminum seat, number plates and front and rear fenders; custom fitted fuel tank; lowered the bike by two inches with new shocks on the back and slid up the fork tubes in the front giving it less rake.
I then replaced all the cables with Motion Pro and put on new bars with set back mounts. The front number plate has a single 3-inch LED with two amber turn signal strips across the bottom.
A little about me. I’m 61 and got to race flat track back in the 70’s. This set the love in my soul for two wheels and I always found comfort in working on them. In 1977 my best friend and race travel partner passed away while racing. For the next 30 some years I lost my interest in motorcycles and in 2009 decided to make a change and found my sobriety.
Since that time I have built 12 bikes and started a hobby business fabricating aluminum seat pans under the name Vintage Sykles. To me anyone who can create an image in their mind then make it into something tangible is a true gift. A gift I believe that comes from a power greater than ourselves. Imagination is our greatest gift! Thank you.